The public focus of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia has been the catastrophe at Northwood’s Halifax campus, where 53 residents died from the disease over 33 days. That’s 84 per cent of the 63 COVID-19 deaths in the province. It’s five percentage points above the Canadian average for long term care facilities (LTCs), which itself compares poorly with the average of 42 per cent among other wealthy countries.
That’s bad enough, but it gets worse. At least four more people in smaller LTCs have succumbed to the virus, for a total of 57 deaths or almost 91 per cent of the provincial total.
This information comes not from the province, but Ryerson University in Toronto. The NS Department of Health and Wellness (DHW) stopped responding to my questions about the other LTCs a week ago. Reporters got similar treatment, but I have more time than they do and found the National Institute on Ageing at Ryerson. The NIA has been tracking the pandemic across the country using news stories and sources of their own. I’ve pasted a screenshot of their site below. The actual map is interactive. The web address and advice on getting the best results are in the caption.
You can see Ryerson’s data in tabular format below.
|Name of LTC||Location||Owner/Operator||Resident Infections||Staff Infections||Resident Deaths|
(NB: no staff deaths recorded)
|Magnolia Manor||Enfield||Stevens Group||2||3||0|
|Bissett Court||Cole Harbour||Shannex||0||1||0|
|R.K. MacDonald Nursing Home||Antigonish||Non-profit society||0||1||0|
|Ocean View Continuing Care||Eastern Passage||Non-profit society||2||3||0|
|Northside Community Guest Home||North Sydney||Non-profit society||4||0||1|
|Admiral Long Term Care||Dartmouth||Gem Health Care Group||2||11||1|
|Harbourstone Enhanced Care||Sydney River||Shannex||3||0||2|
|Northwood Halifax campus||Halifax||Non-profit society||246||99||53|
|Plus 10 infections reported but not not linked to a specific LTC|
|Total LTC infections, Staff+Residents||392|
|NS infections to date||1,067|
|% infections related to LTCs||36.7%|
|% of deaths related to LTCs||90.5%|
On May 6, DHW switched to reporting active cases at LTCs instead of a cumulative count, making it impossible to accurately understand what was happening in the sector. Perhaps it was a well-intentioned mistake but, if so, it could have easily been corrected anytime during the following 75 days.
None of this is scandalous, but it makes me wonder whether the government is acting in good faith at a time when trust is vital.
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The midst of a deadly pandemic seems like an odd time to bury facts about its spread. As I went through news stories to verify Ryerson’s data, I found recurring complaints about DHW’s refusal to provide detailed information. Online news “briefings” restrict each reporter to one question and one follow-up, whether or not the question has been answered. Further, the government decides how much time is allotted for questions. Premier Stephen McNeil bristles and fires off a rebuke when someone asks about a verboten topic such as the need for an inquiry into the Coronavirus deaths or the human slaughter that began in Portapique. He forgets he’s an employee, not a boss. As someone who came to politics from business, he may not understand the difference.
As an obedient citizen I, unlike pushy reporters, would never ask a question the premier didn’t want to hear, but here’s what I politely requested from DHW via email more than a week ago:
- Name of each LTC stricken by COVID-19
- # Resident infections at each
- # Staff infections
- # Resident cases Resolved
- # Resident Deaths
- # Residents who died in LTC
- # Staff deaths
- # Number staff cases resolved
- Date of first case
- Date of most recent case
- # Active Cases
I got nothing in reply, so yesterday I began calling LTCs and this morning I coincidentally got an email reply from DHW. It turned out staff are “unable to easily pull” the information I wanted.
If that’s true, then we’re in more trouble than we thought. I know people who could pull that information from an Excel spreadsheet in about 20 minutes. And DHW uses a database that is reputedly better-suited to the task.
Me, I’m thankful we have universities in Toronto backing us up.
Information about births and deaths are part of the glue that holds a society together. In a pandemic, details about deaths are vital if you want people to understand the risk they face. For example, it’s easy to ignore a report that a number of anonymous people died in some anonymous place. We do it all the time. But if instead you read that your long-forgotten college roommate died from COVID-19 at the other end of the province, you pay attention. Suddenly it has become more real, more personal, and you might even be inspired to wear a mask inside public spaces.
Details also promote accountability. Friends and relatives of a deceased person can easily spot mistakes and lies when they can see a name attached to them. It’s why the courts are reluctant to hide the names of people involved in criminal trials. Judges know their credibility rests on transparency. Information vacuums are inevitably filled with misinformation, distrust and conspiracy theories.
If anything good came out of the Northwood tragedy, it was the way it heightened our understanding of how serious the disease is and how close it came to being out of control.
McNeil’s “review” of what happened at Northwood is supposed to help all concerned improve their policies and procedures. No doubt. But if you want to know what his government did, or failed to do, for LTCs; or why it rejected Northwood’s pleas for help as far back as 2017, you’ll want a public inquiry that names names.
But you won’t get it.
And if you want answers about RCMP actions in Portapique, or lack thereof, you can just pound sand.
One question, one follow-up. Next please.
And shut the blazes up.